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Tag Archive | "wildlife"

Walt’s Stream Crossing


 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Time outdoors is refreshing but can be life threatening if one does not learn to read the landscape. It is easy to become disoriented and lost. It is easier to get lost in Michigan than in the mountainous west. When hiking unfamiliar territory in the west, I use mountain peaks and ridges to keep my bearing. In Michigan, a compass is more essential because one cannot see distinctive landmarks in the distance.

On cloudy days when the sun is obscured, it is difficult to maintain orientation.

In our personal home range, we become familiar with objects and know exactly where we are and how to get to specific locations. Going to and from work, school, or regular haunts, it becomes so familiar that we can almost travel the routes blind folded.

As a teenager, my father-in-law hunted, hiked, and played in southern Minnesota’s landscape along the Minnesota River near Le Sueur. Wildlife in the forest and fields changed during the year depending on available food and shelter. Walt learned to track animals and it helped him hunt successfully.

Landscape features helped him survive solo outings. The Minnesota River was wide and at certain times of the year was not crossable due to high water. Even in seasons with lower water, crossing required submerging to his thighs or waist. He learned to read the landscape for safe crossing in shallowest water.

To cross the river, Walt would seek a bend in the river where a sandbar extended from the inside of a curve toward the downstream bank on the opposite shore. Water flowing toward the curve would flow straight into the outside edge of the curve, hit the bank and be diverted toward the center of the river.

Sand and other material carried by the river dropped in the slower current on the inside of the curve and created a sandbar. Directly opposite another sandbar extended toward the center of the river because the stronger current was diverted from the bank to the center of the river. Slower water on the far side dropped sediments.

When Walt crossed the river, he waded on one sand bar, was able to cross deeper water in the center, and finish crossing on the other sandbar. The Minnesota River was wide and reasonably shallow so he could wade water that was usually shallower than the length of his legs.

In February, when the temperatures seldom rose to zero during the day and dropped to -15 to -30 F at night, the river surface froze enough to walk on despite the flowing current beneath. One winter day he was crossing the frozen surface and the current had thinned the ice. He broke through and submerged to his waist. The air was about -20 F.

He scrambled out of the water and started running as fast as he could for home a mile away. Wet clothes on skin draws heat quickly from one’s body. He knew hypothermia would come fast. When he arrived home, his pants were frozen solid everywhere except at the knees where they were constantly flexed as he ran.

Good fortune allowed him to arrive home, cold and shivering instead of becoming a frozen ice statue in the wild country he enjoyed. It was good he crossed the river where it was shallowest. When venturing outside, we should pay attention to the landscape and read its secrets so when the need arises we can safely navigate. Outdoors should be enjoyed and not feared. Fear will dissipate when we become familiar with the outdoors. Spend time with family exploring nature niches during all seasons.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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What a difference a year makes


 

DNR biologists discuss effects of milder winter on wildlife

Canada geese and mallards enjoying a stretch of open water in Ingham County are shown. During this milder winter so far, waterfowl have been able to find more areas of open water for feeding.

Canada geese and mallards enjoying a stretch of open water in Ingham County are shown. During this milder winter so far, waterfowl have been able to find more areas of open water for feeding.

Looking out your window, do you find yourself saying, “This winter is different?”

Remembering last winter, areas of Michigan had not inches, but feet of snow on the ground by mid-November. In stark contrast, this winter, many parts of Michigan didn’t receive any significant snowfall that stayed on the ground, until after Christmas.

With the effects of one of the strongest El Nino weather patterns on record—warmer Pacific Ocean waters producing atmospheric changes in weather thousands of miles away—this winter certainly is different.

Moose are built for cold conditions, with long legs for deep snow and thick fur coats for winter temperatures.

Moose are built for cold conditions, with long legs for deep snow and thick fur coats for winter temperatures.

As a result, weather forecasters are predicting above-average temperatures and drier than normal winter conditions across the northern tier of the country, including Michigan.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists have been fielding inquiries about how the milder conditions might be affecting wildlife this winter.

“The 2014-2015 Michigan winter had record low temperatures for numerous days,” DNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason said. “Along with those cold temps, winter brought snow depths that challenged even the most adapted wildlife.”

Waterfowl

Less than a year ago, waterfowl were being negatively affected across Michigan by lakes, rivers and streams freezing completely, or more extensively than usual, leaving smaller areas of open water for ducks and swans to feed. After the last two hard winters, this winter is providing many open water locations.

“Instead of ducks being concentrated in small areas, ducks and swans have good amounts of open water in a mild winter, giving them room to forage and find the food they need,” said Barbara Avers, a DNR waterfowl and wetlands specialist.

The last two winters resulted in some malnourished or dead waterfowl being trapped on the ice, unable to fly. Not this winter.

Smaller mammals

Squirrels never take a break. They are active all year long, and this mild winter provides an easier hunt for food. Less snow to get through equals less energy needed to find food and stay warm.

With a milder winter, snowshoe hares are likely to be under a bit more pressure from predators. Their fur is light brown in the fall and molts to white as the amount of daylight changes. Until snow is on the ground, the white fur stands out, allowing hawks, owls and other predators better opportunities to benefit.

Alternatively, hares this winter should have plenty of food they can easily access.

Skunks and raccoons go into an inactive or dormant state in the winter. This is something they are naturally wired to do to conserve energy. This won’t change with the mild winter. Their late winter mating seasons, won’t be affected. As usual, they will be out and more visible for brief periods of time looking for a mate.

Large mammals

Black bear have this same instinct; their internal clock is telling them they need to conserve energy, regardless of temperature, find a place to den and go into a deep sleep.

What is frequently referred to as a bear hibernating is really a bear in a very deep sleep. Even with the warm fall and warm December, a bear will still den. Black bears also den in southern states, where temperatures and snow levels are much more moderate compared to even a mild Michigan winter.

Bears are triggered to enter their dens by a combination of things, with the amount of daylight being an important main factor. Bears are able to survive the denning period because they bulk up during the fall, gaining 1-2 pounds per day.

Not all animals will benefit from this mild winter.

“Moose are a species that are just built for the cold,” said DNR wildlife research biologist Dean Beyer. “Moose are at their southern extent of their range in the Upper Peninsula.”

Moose, with their long legs and thick winter coat, are built for deep snow and cold temperatures. When moose have their winter coat, and temperatures are warmer than 23 degrees, they become stressed and need to take action to cool down.

“When an animal is stressed, its heart and respiration rates will increase, in turn increasing the amount of energy they are using,” Beyer said. “This December was probably stressful on Michigan moose, as temps were warmer than they normally experience.”

Deer, on the other hand, will find some relief with a mild winter.

For winter survival, deer reduce their movements by about 50 percent and their food intake by about 30 percent. Mild temperatures allow deer to survive on the layer of fat they’ve built up the previous fall.

Just like with moose, the more deer move in the wintertime, the more energy they use. However, deer, with their shorter legs, should be able to find the little food they need in the winter accessible, above and below the snow.

In the Upper Peninsula, the effects of three consecutive harsh winters, combined with the contributions of predators, have been tough on deer populations. Though wildlife biologists caution that one mild winter will not be enough to allow the herd to quickly rebound, the moderation in conditions is beneficial and welcomed.

Birds

Wild turkeys will also have an easier time in a mild winter. Typically at higher snow depths or when a hard snow crust is formed, turkeys rely solely on fruits, nuts and catkins on trees and shrubs—food found above the snow.

When possible, turkeys will continue to scratch through the snow in farmed fields, getting the valuable crumbs left behind by farming equipment, and can even find acorns and beech nuts in the woods.

Ruffed grouse may be more susceptible to predators, without several feet of snowy insulation. These birds can almost dive into the snow and burrow, staying warm and concealed. They typically do well during those hard winters.

Migrating birds generally started leaving and heading south months ago. Therefore, this unseasonably warm winter is something they’ll realize only when they return in the spring.

Some migrating birds that leave relatively late, like sandhill cranes, may stay behind as long as they can find the food they need to make it through the winter, but will continue south if temperatures drop.

Birds like American robins, eastern bluebirds and hermit thrushes may remain in the state in small numbers, because of the mild weather and availability of berries and seeds.

Resident backyard birds, like blue jays, American goldfinches, northern cardinals and black-capped chickadees will use less energy keeping warm during a mild winter, which can result in better body conditions and larger egg clutches or broods of chicks in the spring.

Outlook

So far, the milder winter we’ve experienced has been a welcome break for many people and some wildlife that have had a hard go the last few winters. Although we may think this relative lack of snow and warmer temperatures make this winter different or easier, the winter is certainly not over.

For many animals, the next couple months could still be challenging. However, animals have habits or instincts and are hard-wired to survive. They will adapt.

For more information, visit the DNR’s webpage at www.michigan.gov/wildlifeactionplan.

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Is your yard wildlife-friendly?


DIG-Is-your-yard-wildlife-friendly-Bluebirds

(StatePoint) Being a good neighbor means more than being friendly to the humans across the street, it also means being friendly to the animals in your yard. Making your yard a safe place for local wildlife should be a top lawn care priority.

With that in mind, here are some tips for creating a healthy habitat for local critters.

Be a Valuable Rest Stop

Stock your garden with small native species of trees, shrubs and flowers to give wildlife needed nourishment, as well as cover from predators.

A source of water can also be a great resource for visiting fauna. Whether it’s a pond or a bird bath, be sure this zone is well-maintained so you don’t inadvertently create a haven for unwanted species. In the warmer months when mosquitoes are most active, you should change the bird bath water even more often.

Promote Safety

A bird feeder in your backyard, full of water and seeds, will be the perfect invitation for beautiful migrating and local birds to stop by.

Just be sure your property is safe for birds. Unfortunately, birds don’t see clear glass. As a result, millions of birds die every year by striking glass. Don’t let your sliding glass doors or other windows become a death trap for birds.

To protect birds, apply special decals that reflect ultraviolet sunlight. For example, those from WindowAlert have the appearance of frosted glass, but glow like a stoplight for birds, so you don’t have to compromise your own view out your window. The brand also makes a high-tech liquid called WindowAlert UV Liquid, which should be applied between decals.

“Wildlife can beautify your garden and be a sign that your yard is healthy” says Spencer Schock, founder of WindowAlert. “But birds and other wildlife need food, shelter, and safety.”

Get out the binoculars! With a few small actions, you can make your yard or garden a wildlife refuge.

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Enjoy springtime baby animal sightings  


 

Springtime brings sightings of baby animals, like this young fawn hidden in the tall grass. While fawns may seem abandoned, they almost certainly are not. Deer often leave fawns unattended for long periods to help prevent them from being detected by predators.

Springtime brings sightings of baby animals, like this young fawn hidden in the tall grass. While fawns may seem abandoned, they almost certainly are not. Deer often leave fawns unattended for long periods to help prevent them from being detected by predators.

But remember to leave wildlife in the wild

 

With the arrival of spring, wild animals are giving birth and hatching the next generation of Michigan’s wildlife. Baby red foxes appeared in dens during the last days of March and the first days of April. Young great-horned owls have already hatched and are growing up in stick nests high above the ground. Mourning doves have made nests, and some have already laid eggs. The first litters of cottontails will appear soon.

Springtime brings with it an increase in sightings of nestlings and baby animals. The Department of Natural Resources encourages Michigan residents to get outside and enjoy the experience of seeing wildlife raising its young, but reminds them that it is important to remain at a distance.

“These are magical moments to witness but, unfortunately, sometimes the story has a different ending when people take baby wild animals out of the wild,” said DNR wildlife technician Katie Keen. “Please resist the urge to try to help seemingly abandoned fawns or other baby animals this spring. Some people truly are trying to be helpful, while others think wild animals would make good pets, but in most cases neither of those situations ends well for the wildlife.”

“We appreciate the good intentions of those who want to help, but the animals are better off left alone than removed from the wild,” Keen added.

The animals most commonly rescued by well-intentioned citizens include white-tailed deer fawns and raccoons.

“Spring is the time for fawns,” said DNR wildlife technician Holly Vaughn.  “Remember a fawn’s best chance for survival is with its mother. Do not remove a fawn that is not injured from the wild.”

“Fawns rely on their camouflage coat to protect them from predators, while their mother stays off in the distance,” Vaughn added. “The mother will not return if people or dogs are present. If you find a fawn alone, do not touch it; just quickly leave it alone. After dark the mother deer will return for her fawn.”

It is not uncommon for deer to leave their fawns unattended for up to eight hours at a time. This behavior minimizes the scent of the mother left around the fawn and allows the fawn to go undetected from nearby predators. While fawns may seem abandoned, they almost certainly are not. All wild white-tailed deer begin life this way.

Most mammals have a keen sense of smell, and parents may abandon their young if humans have touched them. Other wildlife, such as birds, should not be handled either. Adult birds will continue to care for hatchlings that have fallen from their nest. If people move the hatchlings, the adults may not be able to locate and care for them.
The DNR advises:

It is illegal to possess a live wild animal, including deer, in Michigan. Every day an animal spends with humans makes it less likely to be able to survive in the wild.

Many baby animals will die if removed from their natural environment, and some have diseases or parasites that can be passed on to humans or pets.

Some “rescued” animals that do survive become habituated to people and are unable to revert back to life in the wild.

Eventually, habituated animals pose additional problems as they mature and develop adult animal behaviors. Habituated deer, especially bucks, can become aggressive as they mature, and raccoons are well-known for this too.

“If you find any baby animal, it should be left in the wild,” said Vaughn. “The only time a baby animal should be removed from the wild is when you know the parent is dead or the animal is injured. Please contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator before removing the animal.”
For a list of licensed rehabilitators visit www.michigandnr.com/dlr or call your local DNR office.

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Sandhill Cranes in your Community


Photo by Beth Olson

Photo by Beth Olson

Photo by Brian Stalter

Photo by Brian Stalter

Breeding season for Sandhill Cranes is well underway in Michigan and chances are you have observed these birds in your community. Standing almost four feet tall cranes are easy to notice and entertaining to observe, but Michigan Audubon wants to remind Michiganders to maintain a safe viewing distance and let wildlife be wild. Here are few tips to help you live comfortably together with the Sandhill Cranes in your community.

Give cranes ample space. Sandhill Cranes are large and require a big area in order to take flight. Many people have seen cranes walking across roads, through neighborhoods, and on golf courses. If you encounter cranes while driving a vehicle, garden tractor, or golf cart, make sure to give the birds a wide berth. Sandhill Cranes may not always take flight, especially if they are escorting juvenile cranes called “colts.” Please slow down and let the cranes get to a safe place.

Do not intentionally feed cranes. Michigan Audubon receives reports of Sandhill Cranes taking advantage of backyard bird feeding stations and even cases where cranes are pecking at patio windows. If cranes become regular visitors at a home feeding station, we encourage property owners to take down feeders for a few days and allow the cranes to find natural food on their own. Bringing cranes to your feeding station can put the birds in contact with more potential predators such as domestic dogs, raccoons, foxes and other urban wildlife.

Learn more about cranes. Sandhill Cranes have made a tremendous comeback in Michigan, thanks to a variety of conservation measures. Cranes are regularly observed during spring migration at places like Whitefish Point and Brockway Mountain in the Upper Peninsula. Breeding cranes and adults with young are widely observed throughout Michigan, and because of their size do not even require binoculars to be fully appreciated. This fall Michigan Audubon encourages Michiganders to visit one of the numerous sites in the southern Lower Peninsula where cranes will be staging for migration. The 20th Annual Sandhill Crane & Art Festival, also known simply as “CraneFest,” will take place October 11 and 12 in Calhoun County and includes crane-viewing, special presentations, 25 Michigan artists, and activities for kids. Visit www.cranefest.org for more information.

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Spring weather has bears and other wildlife on the move


 

Although some areas of the state may still have several feet of snow on the ground, Michigan’s wildlife knows the spring season, with an increase in daylight hours, is here. Animals are beginning to wake up from winter hibernation; bears are among those starting to emerge from their dens.

Food and mating are the two drivers behind the increase in wildlife that Michigan residents may be seeing lately. Since bears typically mate in June or July, food is the primary cause for the increase in bear activity during the spring.

“At this time of year, bears are looking for food,” said Department of Natural Resources bear and furbearer specialist Adam Bump. “They are hungry after spending months in their dens. While we might not think of bird feeders and trash cans as food sources, a hungry bear certainly may.”

Each spring, as bears leave their winter dens and resume daily activity, wildlife officials begin receiving calls about bear sightings and even the occasional bear damaging bird feeders, trash cans and grills.

Birdseed, because of its high fat content and easy accessibility, is especially attractive to bears. Once bird feeders are discovered, bears will keep coming back until the seed is gone or the feeders have been removed.

“The majority of complaints we receive about nuisance bears in the spring involve a food source. The easiest thing people can do to avoid creating a problem is to take in their bird feeders and store other attractants, like grills, trash cans and pet food, in a garage or storage shed,” Bump said. “Once the woods green up, bears tend to move on to find more natural sources of food, as long as they haven’t become habituated to the birdseed or garbage cans.”

Bears that are rewarded with food each time they visit a yard can become habituated to these food sources unintentionally provided by people. This can create an unsafe situation for the bear and become a nuisance for landowners if a bear continuously visits their yard during the day and repeatedly destroys private property in search of food.

DNR Wildlife Division staff members are unable to respond directly to each nuisance bear complaint and instead ask that landowners do their part to help reduce potential food sources in their yards before calling for further assistance. The trapping of nuisance bears is only authorized by DNR wildlife officials in cases of significant property damage or threats to human safety when other techniques have failed.

Anyone who is experiencing problems with nuisance bears and has taken the appropriate action to remove food sources for a period of two to three weeks, but has not seen results, should contact the nearest DNR office and speak with a wildlife biologist or technician for further assistance.

For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/bear.

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The sound science of clear-cuts


Clear-cuts are used to help regenerate species that can’t compete in mature forests. Two of the most notable species that are clear-cut are aspen and jack pine. In order to maximize regeneration, aspen (pictured) must be clear-cut.



Clear-cuts are used to help regenerate species that can’t compete in mature forests. Two of the most notable species that are clear-cut are aspen and jack pine. In order to maximize regeneration, aspen (pictured) must be clear-cut.

The Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Resources Division is in charge of managing the timber on state forest land. The DNR’s Wildlife Division is in charge of managing the critters. But because forestry practices have a big impact on wildlife habitat, the two divisions co-manage state forests to benefit both timber and wildlife. And although the divisions sometimes have different ideas, both agree on one, often misunderstood, technique: clear-cutting.

“Clear-cutting is a sound scientific management technique for harvesting and regenerating certain forest types,” explained Deb Begalle, forest planning and operations section manager with the Forest Resources Division. “Usually it’s for shorter-lived species—such as aspen and jack pine—which are also sun-loving species. They need a lot of sunlight to establish and grow.”

Clear-cutting involves removing virtually all the timber from a stand, which encourages regrowth of the preferred species. But it doesn’t involve stripping the landscape as it did during the timbering era.

“Clear-cutting isn’t what it was 100 years ago,” Begalle said. “We leave some trees in place for a variety of reasons—for wildlife, for aesthetics, sometimes in clumps, sometimes individual trees.

“People are averse to the look of clear-cuts. They see a lot of slash (branches, logs and other debris from natural occurrences or logging operations) on the ground and find it unsightly. But the slash puts nutrients back into the ground as the branches decompose. It also provides micro-habitat for wildlife species, such as salamanders, and brush piles for rabbits.”

DNR wildlife biologist Mark Sargent says young aspen is important to a host of species – grouse, woodcock, deer, rabbits, hare, moose, elk and numerous songbirds.

“In the case of grouse, young aspen stands provide brood-rearing and nesting habitat and, as they grow older, they produce winter food via buds,” he explained. “But young aspen also provides browse for deer, elk and moose—leaves, stems, tops and bark. As the trees grow larger, they grow out of the reach of the animals.”

But along with aspen, Sargent said, come other shade-intolerant plants—raspberries, forbs, dogwood and hawthorns—that provide food or cover for wildlife, too.

“A clear-cut can create outstanding browse and still provide habitat for grouse and woodcock,” he added. “It’s a win-win situation.”

The most critical characteristic of clear-cuts is that they really don’t last long. “We always assure trees are going to grow back quickly,” Begalle said. “In the case of aspen, it will come back so quickly that within a year we have seedlings all over the place.”

Aspen is typically managed on 40- to 60-year rotations for several reasons. That’s not only when the trees have good timber value, but when they’re prime for regenerating.

“The older it gets, the less well aspen regenerates,” Begalle said. “Aspen sort of uses up its vitality. It regenerates through its root system and if it’s losing vitality, it won’t produce as many sprouts.”

While the cuts are well-planned, one of the things the DNR is sometimes criticized for is not leaving buffer areas around clear-cuts.

“We usually do not leave buffers along private property lines, because people then think that’s the property line,” Begalle explained. “A lot people utilize or build on that uncut area because they believe the cut is the property line. And if we left buffers along all the property lines, that would leave thousands of acres unmanaged.

“We try to keep aesthetics in mind,” she continued. “If we have long-lived tree species, such as white pine and oak, we will try to leave those along roadways and private property.”

Clear-cuts do not work for all trees, such as hardwoods or saw-log conifers, but where short-lived, shade-intolerant species are concerned, both Wildlife and Forest Resources division staff agree: Clear-cuts are clearly the way to go.

For more information about how the DNR manages Michigan’s state forest land, visit www.michigan.gov/forestplan.

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Protect your winter landscape from hungry wildlife


AWE-Protest-winter-landscape-Fencing-for-animal-protectionby gardening expert Melinda Myers

There’s no doubt that managing critters in the landscape can be a challenge especially as food supplies start to dwindle. If you are battling with rabbits, deer, groundhogs or other wildlife, don’t let down your guard as the growing season begins to wind down.

Be proactive. Start before they get into the habit of dining on your landscape. It is easier to keep them away than break the dining habit.

Fence them out. Fencing is the best defense against most wildlife.  A four feet tall fence around a small garden will keep out rabbits.  Secure the bottom tight to the ground or bury it several inches to prevent rabbits and voles from crawling underneath.  Or fold the bottom of the fence outward, making sure it’s tight to the ground. Animals tend not to crawl under when the bottom skirt faces away from the garden.

Go deeper, at least 12 to 18 inches, if you are trying to discourage woodchucks. And make sure the gate is secure. Many hungry animals have found their way into the garden through openings around and under the gate.

A five foot fence around small garden areas can help safeguard your plantings against hungry deer. Some gardeners report success surrounding their garden with fishing line mounted on posts at one and three foot heights.

Break out the repellents. Homemade and commercial repellents can be used.  Apply before the animals start feeding and reapply as directed. Consider using a natural product like Messina’s Animal Stopper (http://www.messinas.com/. It is made of herbs, safe to use and smells good.

Scare ‘em away. Blow up owls, clanging pans, rubber snakes, slivers of deodorant soap, handfuls of human hair and noisemakers are scare tactics that have been used by gardeners for years. Consider your environment when selecting a tactic. Urban animals are used to the sound and smell of people. Alternate scare tactics for more effective control.  The animals won›t be afraid of a snake that hasn›t moved in weeks.

Combine tactics. Use a mix of fencing, scare tactics and repellents. Keep monitoring for damage. If there are enough animals and they are hungry, they will eat just about anything.

Don’t forget about nature. Welcome hawks and fox into your landscape. Using less pesticides and tolerating some critters, their food source, will encourage them to visit your yard. These natural pest controllers help keep the garden-munching critters under control.

And most importantly, don’t give up.  A bit of persistence, variety and adaptability is the key to success. Investing some time now will not only deter existing critters from dining in your landscape, but will also reduce the risk of animals moving in next season.

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Can’t Miss Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment segments. Myers is also a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers’ web site,http://www.melindamyers.com/www.melindamyers.com, offers gardening videos, podcasts, and garden tips.

 

 

 

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No Child Left Inside Part 1


OUT-RangerSteveMuellerBy Ranger Steve Mueller

 

No child left inside is locally important for all things start at home. I emphasize what people can do to promote healthy nature niches on their property for families and wildlife. Our children are among those that live in our home nature niches.

An organized No Child Left Inside movement has been around for over a century in many forms by different names and sponsors. Field and Stream Clubs across the country have programs where youth get immersed in the outdoors. The emphasis focuses around hunting and fishing with a goal to help youth understand the natural world they depend on for life. They gave me a scholarship to wildlife camp for a week in 1964 where I learned about birds, mammals, fish, outdoor skills, and habitat management.

The National Audubon Society Junior Audubon program takes kids outdoors to experience birds, plants, insects, and all ecology our lives depend upon. The local Junior Audubon is the longest running program in North America according to Grand Rapids Audubon leader Wendy Tatar. My parents subscribed me to Junior Audubon booklets monthly for years that taught about soil, worms, insects, birds, mammals, amphibians, plant communities and the list goes on and on.

4H programs focus primarily on animal husbandry and plant propagation for making ones livelihood but it leads to understanding how all nature’s creatures like soil bacteria and mycorhiza fungus are essential for maintaining a healthy world. Paige Gebhardt, 4H student, graduated salutatorian this year from Cedar Springs High School and will attend Michigan State University studying wildlife programs. She told me this spring she would love to work with wolves and become a wildlife biologist to enhance healthy nature niches essential for the health of our community.

Boy and Girl Scout programs have been among the most influential for my personal development. Boy Scouts got me outside canoeing, camping, hiking, observing with focused activities where I could study the natural world. The leaders often did not have the best nature knowledge but they loved it. By the time I was in high school, scout leaders and other scouts often turned to me with nature questions because I immersed myself in outdoor study. The first nature book I bought with my own money was A Field to the Butterflies, by Alexander Klots. I had been chasing winged jewels for years and wanted better understanding.

The Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) is an organization of outdoor leaders and teachers focused on experiential outdoor recreational activities and for responsible environmental stewardship that is not environmentally destructive. I was president of MAEOE working to lead local communities in Michigan to help return environmental and outdoor education as a priority again in 2007. In 1986, Dale Elshoff and I both moved to Michigan and we were already trained Project WILD facilitators. Together we led the first statewide teacher training in Project WILD to establish it in Michigan. It is a form of no child left inside that teachers and organization leaders use with youth.

It was the beginning of June 2005 when I was called to the Kent ISD office and told to lay off the staff at the Howard Christensen Nature Center on the last day of school. The superintendent told me they were closing HCNC because environmental education was no longer a priority in America. I objected and he commented that he was not saying it was not important but it was no longer a priority in America, Michigan, or our community. There were several people throughout the county that contacted the ISD and even the Grand Rapids Press but environmental education had become a political football instead of a community value so it was closed. The Kent County Soil Conservation District reopened it a year later for two years and then a nonprofit organization called Lily’s Frog Pad assumed management. Their programs and community involvement are growing at HCNC to promote No Child Left Inside.

Next week’s nature niche will focus on the current No Child Left Inside movement.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net or Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.

 

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Kayaking, canoeing, and wildlife


OUT-RangerSteveMuellerRanger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Taking to open water in a kayak or canoe can be a quiet pleasurable wildlife encounter. There are liveries in Rockford and Newaygo for easy floats on the Rogue or Muskegon rivers. For those with their own vessels, the opportunities are greater, for one can be put in and taken out at various locations. A bit farther away, one can kayak the Glass River, from the Michigan Audubon Otis Sanctuary in Barry County near Hastings. Go north to canoe the Pine River for a challenge or Little Manistee with more moderate water in the Cadillac region. Canoeing the Les Cheneaux Islands in northern Lake Huron can provide a protected paddle on big water, where the islands help calm waves. I am not after the thrill of white caps or white water but seek wildlife instead.

Karen and I enjoy quiet calm wildlife viewing on our trips. When I was a teenager our church youth group goal was splashing, dumping, and cooling on a hot summer’s day, but our family paddles were quiet and wildlife oriented. Boy scout trips were longer and included over night camping. A most mysterious experience in my life was while camping along the Rifle River on a scout trip. That night we heard the sound of large bubbles emanating from deep within the earth. For several years I heard the unnerving sound with no clue to its origin but it seemed extraterrestrial. The sound has become considerably more rare but can be heard in scattered locations if one is near a sizable marsh. The maker is the American Bittern, a bird in the heron family. I have heard it described as a thunder bird because of its sound but more frequently it is described as sounding like a water pump. I prefer my bubble description.

Other herons are croakers and the last time Julianne, Charlie, Karen and I canoed together we heard and saw both Green and Great Blue Herons. Many ducks paddled along near the shore at a distance. Belted Kingfishers make their rattle call as they fly ahead or back over us in route to favorite fishing locations on their family claim on the river. Choice locations for kingfishers include sandy bluffs where they dig six-foot deep nesting tunnels in the bank.

A bit harder to see without binoculars are the warblers, flycatchers, and sparrows that sing vibrant songs along shrubby or forested shores. They are present because mayflies, caddisflies, dragonflies and many other insects have found healthy nature niches. It is always a joy to watch the aerial excellence of Common Whitetails, darners, and baskettail dragonflies capturing insects. We try to disturb fly fishers as little as possible as we float past them with our paddles stationary. They are casting special hand made flies in hopes of a good sparring with a fish before releasing it back, so the fish can find the real insect that is being imitated on the end of a line. Depending on whether the stream is catch and release or not, the fish may become a great human meal.

I like to paddle near shore to see many butterflies species nectar on a host of beautiful flowers. Joe Pye Weed, Swamp Milkweed, and other flowers abound. Bird watching in May and June are best when bird song is at its peak and they are easier to see. We like August because it is warm, usually more sunny, and biting insects have subsided. A monthly, weekly, or even daily canoe venture would be nice. If only I could live a thousand lives at once to be exploring a thousand outdoor adventures in a thousand different natures niches simultaneously.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.

 

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Kayaking, canoeing, and wildlife